PHOTO: Peter Vinall, president and co-founder of Sustane Technologies, says the company can convert solid waste that arrives at a landfill into biofuel, through a process that generates zero emissions. Photo courtesy of The Chronicle Herald
Comox Strathcona regional districts take a step closer to new advanced recycling technologies, fewer greenhouse gas emissions and longer landfill life
Using valuable land to bury our garbage is 17th Century thinking,” according to Charlie Cornfield, a Campbell River member of the Comox Strathcona Waste Management Board’s (CSWM) special committee investigating new technologies.
Cornfield made the comment April 5 in support of a series of motions to move the regional district closer to adopting advanced recycling methods that could extend the life of landfills and turn the community’s waste into sources of energy.
The disposition of household and commercial garbage has become a major problem for municipalities around the world, and B.C.’s coastal areas are not immune.
Powell River and the Cowichan Valley already ship their municipal waste by barge to private landfills in Washington state at exorbitant expense.
The Comox Strathcona region must spend about $28 million every six to seven years to open, operate and close up new landfill sites, a frequency that will escalate when the Campbell River landfill closes in 2023 and its waste is trucked to Pigeon Lake. That’s a cost to taxpayers of more than $300,000 per month.
“We can’t afford it (landfills) anymore,” Cornfield said.
FURTHER READING: Should the north Island bury its garbage, or convert it to energy?
New technologies that employ advanced recycling methods could extend the life of CSWM landfill at Pigeon Lake, near Cumberland by 69 to 160 years, while releasing significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions, according to consultants employed by the regional district.
The CSWM committee voted unanimously this week to invite two technology companies to meet with the board. The two, Sustane Technologies and Waste Treatment Technologies, were the leading contenders from a longer list of responders to a 2017 Request For Information for waste-to-energy technologies.
The committee also voted to ask the Ministry of Environment to explain provincial regulations that appear to restrict when local governments can adopt waste-to-energy solutions.
And the committee also directed staff to monitor the progress of Sustane Technologies first Canadian operation in Nova Scotia and its eight-year-old facility in Spain.
The committee’s actions rejected a recommendation by Chief Administration Officer Russell Dyson to put off further investigation of alternate waste disposal technologies until 2022, when a 10-year update of the solid waste management plan is due.
But there are still outstanding issues.
The 70 percent rule
Ministry of Environment regulations seem to require that local governments achieve a 70 percent diversion rate before getting provincial approval to explore waste-to-energy technologies.
That might mean that 70 percent of all waste arriving at Pigeon Lake from households and commercial sources must be reduced, recycled or reused, but the definitions and details of how the 70 percent figure is calculated are unclear.
The Comox Strathcona operation currently diverts 48 percent of waste, but when the organics composting facility opens next year in Campbell River, that number will jump to nearly 60 percent.
A representative of Morrison Hershfield, a consulting engineering firm hired to assess various new waste disposal technologies, said the ministry’s number “isn’t set in stone.” He said it’s examined on a case-by-case basis.
He said if the regional districts have a plan and is making a good effort toward diverting 70 percent of waste, a move toward newer technologies is likely to get a favorable response from the ministry.
Cornfield believes the 70 percent number was pulled “out of thin air.”
“Where did the 70 percent come from?” Cornfield said. “Our role as a board, as politicians, is to make the case that we’re close enough to move forward.”
Cornfield pointed out that the CSWM operation diverts more than double many other regional districts and that in many countries of the world, such as the U.K., there are no landfills at all.
Buying garbage, he said is a “horrible waste of an asset” that can be reused as energy.
Cost versus greenhouse gases
The Morrison Hershfield consulting study and detailed cost analysis by Comox Valley Regional District staff concluded that “at this time” it is less expensive to continue buying garbage in landfills.
The newer technologies could cost double or triple the amount per tonne spent on landfilling.
The same report, which compared three different WTE technologies, also concluded that if Comox and Strathcona regional districts continue to bury their garbage in the Pigeon Lake landfill, we will produce 821,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) over the next 40-year period.
The worst (highest) CO2e emissions from any of the three reviewed WTE technologies was only 179,000 tonnes.
And one of the technologies would achieve a net reduction of CO2e by -777,000 tonnes. Yes, a minus number, or a positive CO2e impact.
FURTHER READING: WTE discussion missed the GNG point
In other words, by implementing WTE technology, the entire north Island could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from solid waste by at least 80 percent, and possibly by roughly 200 percent.
Landfills are North America’s third largest source of methane, which is 25 times more detrimental to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
Risks of the leading edge
The least expensive and most environment-friendly new technology studied was proposed by Sustane Technologies.
Sustane uses an advanced recycling processes that include production of crude oil from all forms of plastic, which it refines into diesel oil fuel pellets. The company builds a mini-refinery onsite.
The problem is that Sustane’s technology, while lauded by scientists, has not been proven, according to Morrison Hershfield. Their longest-running plant in Spain has not consistently operated at a commercial level over eight years. And the first Canadian facility in Chester, N.S. is not yet operational.
The consultant said Sustane’s technology is interesting and unique, but is still experimental.
“It will mature, but it’s not yet proven,” he said.
FURTHER READING: Garbage bags into fuel
But Cornfield said whether its proven or not doesn’t scare him.
“It takes people willing to take risks, otherwise we’d never develop new technologies,” he said. “We have to break this cycle (of burying garbage in landfills) sometime.”
WTE Committee Chair Rod Nichol, representing Area B, agreed.
“There’s little risk for us,” he said. “If the technology doesn’t work as well as we hoped, we still have the landfill.”
Nichol and Corfield believe that Sustane or WTT would build and operate a plant themselves, and the fees they charge back for processing the region’s waste would be lower than what residents now pay. CVRD staff doesn’t share that belief.
Time to amend the long-term plan
CVRD CAO Dyson said putting off further investigation of new technologies now would give staff time to engage ministries and the public about amending the solid waste management plan, and give WTT or Sustane time to prove their technologies.
The ministry of the Environment approved the CSWM Solid Waste Management Plan in 2013, and an amended plan in 2016 to permit construction of a new engineered landfill at Pigeon Lake that will contain toxic liquids and capture methane gas.
Besides the new landfill at Pigeon Lake, the Solid Waste Management Plan calls for environmentally-mandated closure of all other landfills in the two regional districts; building transfer stations in those communities losing landfills; and, adding a methane burners and an organic composting facility in Campbell River that is scheduled to open next year.
Committee member Roger Kishi of Cumberland said he’s “certain we need to continue down the path to new technologies, but he’s not as certain that the potential companies will cover all the costs of construction and operation.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” he said.
The whole CSWM board must approve the recommended actions by the select committee at its next meeting on April 19.
FURTHER READING: Provincial ban on plastic bags needed
This article has been updated to include a statement from NDP MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard.
There’s a new water controversy bubbling up in the Comox Valley, and once again the province has dumped another problem on local elected officials.
The B.C. government has approved a controversial groundwater licence for a water extraction and bottling operation on a two hectare property on Sackville Road in the Merville area. They did it despite a strong objection from the Comox Valley Regional District and without public consultation or regard for community concerns.
“The province does this all the time,” said Area B Director Rod Nichol. “We have to clean up the mess and look like the bad guys.”
Nichol compared the water extraction issue to the recent Raven Coal Mine battle and myriad less high-profile issues, such as highway development.
About 200 people attended the CVRD’s Electoral Areas Services Committee meeting Monday (March 5) to protest and urge the CVRD to deny the water extraction applicants a necessary zoning change. The property is current zoned rural residential and would need to be zoned light industrial.
Instead, the committee unanimously endorsed a staff recommendation to refer the rezoning application to various agencies, CVRD committees and K’omoks First Nations. The intent is to build a baseline of data about the source of water (aquifer 408) and how a water bottling operation might impact agriculture and other existing users and potential long-term effects on the surrounding watershed.
NDP MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard emailed this statement to Decafnation:
“I can understand the concerns of Merville residents, as water is a precious resource for any community. My understanding is the ministry performed a detailed technical review of the proposal and noted no concerns about aquifer capacity. I’ve also been reassured that existing well users would get priority in a drought. The project still needs CVRD zoning approval though, and as the local MLA I will be monitoring the situation closely.”
Christopher Scott MacKenzie told the committee that he originally drilled a well for domestic purposes. But after his wife, Regula Heynck, insisted on testing and discovering the water had high pH levels (alkaline), the couple envisioned a viable family business.
MacKenzie claimed the alkaline water has health benefits and is “something the community needs … it’s really unique”
A protester disrupted MacKenzie with concerns about how neighbors’ drinking supplies might go dry. He replied that dry wells would be “hit and miss,” and that people “would just have to understand it.”
MacKenzie and Heynck have recently moved to the Valley from Ringenberg, Germany, and took out a building permit to locate a $14,613 mobile home on the property.
MacKenzie is the son of the late Keith MacKenzie, who served as president of the Courtenay Fish and Game Club after retiring as carpentry foreman from Candian Forces Base, Comox. His tours of duty included a stop in Germany.
The core issue
The province has already approved a groundwater licence that enables MacKenzie/Heynck to extract 10,000 litres per day or 3.65 million litres per year. But the CVRD must approve a rezoning application to permit “water and beverage bottling” as a principal use on the property.
Alana Mullaly, the CVRD manager of planning services, said the province has jurisdiction on what happens below grade. The CVRD has jurisdiction over what can happen above grade.
She said denying the rezoning application would not cancel the provincial groundwater license.
Without a zoning change, MacKenzie/Heynck cannot conduct water bottling operations as the principal use of the property.
But it’s unclear whether a denial of the rezoning application would mean only that they could not construct a bottling facility on the property or that they could not operate a commercial enterprise from the property even without a physical structure.
The CVRD opposed the water extraction application made to Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) on the basis that it was inconsistent with the Rural Comox Valley Official Community Plan Bylaw No. 337, 2014, and the zoning bylaw.
There are environmentally sensitive areas surrounding the property, including many farms and Agricultural Land Reserve areas that rely on groundwater.
Area C Director Edwin Grieve warned that aquifers eventually get pumped down and he wondered what effect that would have on the water supply for nearby farms. He noted that climate changes have caused Portuguese Creek to dry up in the summer.
Grieve said the applicant deserved due process and that the gathering of more information is important.
But Grieve also said earlier that “we could save the applicant a lot of time and money and deny it now.”
CVRD staff will refer the rezoning application to a number of agencies, First Nations and its own relevant committees. Not date was set for staff to report to the CVRD board.
If the application passes through the Area C Advisory Planning Commission, then the CVRD would hold public hearings.
In the meantime, people can express their views on the proposal to Tanya Dunlop, senior authorizations technologist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mid Island Farmers Institute leading the way
By Chris Hilliar
Despite a rainy blustery night, 35 farmers and interested folk showed up at the Merville Hall on Jan. 17 to discuss how the provincial Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and Commission (ALC) could be revitalized.
And discuss they did – for a full two hours. Problems and solutions were duly recorded and will form part of a submission to provincial Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham.
The Mid Island Farmers Institute hosted the meeting with President Arzeena Hamir facilitating. Arzeena is co-owner of the local Amara Farm. She has a Masters Degree in Sustainable Agriculture from the University of London, England, and was recently appointed by the province to sit on a nine-member independent committee tasked with revitalizing the ALR and ALC.
“The assumption,” she pointed out, “is that the ALR system is broken.”
Little wonder, the ALR is now 45 years old, its legislation has been adulterated and watered down by special interests over the course of 10 successive governments.
The ALR was originally created by the Dave Barrett NDP government in 1973 when the province was losing prime agricultural land at the alarming rate of 6,000 hectares per year. The ALR enjoyed high public support with a survey in 1997 showing that 80 percent of British Columbians considered it unacceptable to remove land from the ALR.
FURTHER READING: B.C. Public Attitudes Survey, 2014; Share your ideas with the Ministry of Agriculture
Fast-forward to 2014 and a B.C. public attitudes survey revealed that 44 percent of British Columbians had heard little or nothing about the ALR.
But, attendees at the Farmers Institute meeting had clearly heard about the ALR and were quite aware of its benefits and shortcomings.
The designation of farmland into the Agricultural Land Reserve is contentious as some potentially excellent farmland is currently left out of the ALR and some poor quality land is currently held within the ALR.
Some expressed concern about non-agricultural uses of ALR land and the commission itself also came under fire for lack of enforcement, lack of transparency and political interference in its decision-making.
It also became apparent that the economics of farming are not easy on Vancouver Island.
Transportation, both on and off the Island is costly and the loss of the Island railway has affected farm prices and delivery. The small farmer with fixed costs faces an uphill battle against the big food corporations who can discount transportation costs with the result that imported food is often cheaper than locally grown food.
Housing for farm workers is also a problem both here and elsewhere in the province.
The high price of land is preventing young people from starting to farm and exacerbates the problem of succession planning for older farmers.
Some expressed concern that the purchase of land by marijuana growers will drive up land prices and food farmers will not be able to compete.
An added complication is how the province designates land as farmland, which has implications for taxation. Some felt that agri-tourism should not be allowed to be 100 percent of farm income to achieve farm status.
And, to no surprise, some suggested the recent government approval of the Site C Dam on the Peace River would set a precedent for the B.C. government to not protect farmland.
But it wasn’t just problems that were raised at the Merville meeting, there were lots of solutions too.
Someone suggested that the province should buy large farms that come on the market and then lease parcels out to young prospective farmers. They also suggested a Farmers’ Co-op could be established to provide low-interest funding for farming and that the province could help offset costs associated with the Water Act.
Insurance companies need to start recognizing the replacement value of farm buildings not just the assessed value and some felt there should be rewards and incentives for organic certification.
The crowd was also reminded that we could learn from other cultures. Many European countries have a very different style of land use where everyone, including farmers, lives in small villages surrounded by extensive open farmland with no domestic dwellings consuming large amounts of valuable food growing area — surely a stark contrast to the monster homes we sometimes see sitting on prime farmland in BC.
The Mid Island Farmers Institute has just started to compose their submission to send to the Provincial ALR committee.
If you have a comment that you would like to make to the Mid Island Farmers’ Institute you can contact them at: email@example.com
Chris Hilliar is a Citizen Journalist for The Civic Journalism Project. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The decades-old, worldwide movement to ban the use of thin plastic bags has finally reached Vancouver Island — but not the Comox Valley.
From Uganda to St. John’s Newfoundland. And from Denmark to California, cities, states and entire countries have banned the distribution of the thin single-use polyethylene plastic bags.
And the trend is moving north on Vancouver Island. A Victoria bag ban goes into effect on July 1. Nanaimo has voted to ban the bags, and Parksville and Qualicum Beach are in the process.
But the topic has barely crossed the radar of elected officials in the Comox Valley.
What’s the problem?
One trillion lightweight plastic shopping bags are used worldwide every year, according to the Earth Policy Institute. That’s two million every minute.
Americans use about one of these bags per person per day. Canadians use one to two bags per week. In Denmark, where the world’s first plastic bag ban was implemented in 1993, Danes use only about four bags per person per year.
Based on a rough estimate of our current regional population (67,000), and if Comox Valley residents are typical Canadian consumers, we’re using and discarding somewhere between 9,000 and 19,000 plastic bags per day.
That’s a big problem. Most of these bags contain polyethylene and therefore do not biodegrade. They will last virtually forever.
And, unfortunately, fewer than 3 percent of the bags get recycled. The rest end up in landfills or fly away to wallpaper fences and trees and often will ultimately wash down rivers and streams into the ocean.
Among the common trash items found on beaches, the bags rank second, contributing significantly to the massive patch of garbage swirling together in the Pacific Ocean. When the plastic eventually breaks down into tiny bits, it’s consumed by marine life and then works it way back up the food chain to humans.
To address this issue, governments across Canada and around the world are curtailing the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags .
Comox Valley elected officials
It’s surprising that the Comox Valley, a region with such a strong environmental reputation, has not yet banned non-biodegradable bags. Especially because there are plenty of documented benefits and practically no downside to a ban.
But from a quick email survey of Comox Valley elected officials, it appears that only the City of Courtenay has ever discussed the topic of banning single-use plastic bags.
Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula said, “Our council dealt with this issues several years ago and at that time choose to convince retail outlets to push for cloth shopping bags, which has been done.”
Councilor Bob Wells said he recalls that discussion and he subsequently supported the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce’s successful initiative to encourage retailers and consumers to use reusable shopping bags.
Still, Wells said he could support a city bag ban.
In Comox, Mayor Paul Ives doesn’t favor a municipal ban, although Councilor Maureen Swift said “It sounds like a great idea.”
“It would be best to come from the retail sector rather than top down,” Ives said.
That sentiment was echoed by Cumberland council members, who feel it’s a non-issue in their village.
“Many of Cumberland’s vendors are already doing it (not offering plastic bags),” said Council Roger Kishi. “We don’t want to be ‘big’ government, so we don’t want to intervene where we don’t need to.”
Councilor Gwen Sproule agreed.
“Not sure why it would be discussed, because I can’t think which business gives out single-use bags,” she said. “Certainly not Seeds Organics supermarket.”
But Sproule added that possibly the convenience stores are using them, and that might warrant some discussion.
A Chamber effort in 2009
It’s somewhat surprising that the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce has been the leader of a movement to eliminate single-use plastic shopping bags. It’s generally — and wrongly — assumed that businesses oppose banning the bags.
But Chamber Chief Executive Officer Diane Hawkins said there was a “terrific response from the business community … to our well-run marketing plan.”
Promotion poster from the 2009 Chamber initiative to reduce use of plastic shopping bags
Starting on February 13, 2009, more than 60 local businesses and agencies participated in distributing 75,000 reusable shopping bags to customers through businesses and local schools in an effort to reduce plastic bag use. There was an accompanying education campaign to explain why the bags are harmful and how people could get involved.
“We had terrific community engagement,” Hawkins said. “People still ask us if they can buy the chamber Eco-Bags. It was a wonderful project that embraced the entire Comox Valley.”
The chamber also lobbied their B.C. chamber colleagues to adopt a “Bagless BC policy.” But the initiative for a provincial bag ban didn’t get much traction.
As good as it was, the chamber’s program relied on each individual business to voluntarily stop using plastic bags. Many, perhaps most, locally-owned businesses still do not offer plastic bags.
But the biggest source of plastic bags in our environment have not complied. Many big box stores, convenience stores, grocery stores and others still offer them. And some of the worst bags come from specialty clothing store chains that give out large plastic bags with purchases.
Yet, Costco has proven that big volume retailers can thrive without offering any shopping bags whatsoever.
Meaghan Cursons, who was contracted to manage the chamber’s initiative, said the biggest problem is changing the behaviour of consumers.
“Until we change, in a significant way, how we as a culture consume, the bag issue won’t go away,” she said. “But removing the ones that don’t actually get recycled, float away in the wind, end up in the water and look like seaweed and sea life is a great start.”
Worldwide bag bans
Leaf Rapids, Man. was the first community in Canada to ban plastic bags in April 2007. Since then, hundreds of large and small Canadian municipalities have followed suit.
Toronto was the first major city in Canada to ban plastic bags effective on Jan. 1, 2013. A Montreal ban begins Jan. 1, 2018.
St. John’s Newfoundland voted in a ban on Nov. 15, despite council members pleading for a province-wide ban.
“Come on, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, get this done for all of us,” said Councilor Debbie Hanlon to CBC News.
A high school student in Fort McMurray, Alberta, created a widely supported petition in 2008 that persuaded the City Council to adopt a ban in 2009.
So in the epicenter of the Canadian oil sands, fossil fuel industry workers carry reusable bags into their grocery stores. If it can happen there, surely it could happen in the Comox Valley.
Denmark was the first country to enact a nationwide ban, but many others have followed: Ireland, Italy, Iceland, Brazil, Bangladesh, Belgium and the list goes on.
It will surprise many that Africa has been a global leaders in the bag ban movement. The flimsy bags were a blight on the African landscape, and many people resorted to burning them, which contributed to the 23 percent of all African deaths linked to environmental factors.
Uganda, Somalia, Rwanda, Kenya, South Africa and Ethiopia all have total bans in place.
Why not have a Valley-wide ban?
We used to package fast food in Styrofoam boxes, because it was cheap and easy, or so we thought. Once consumers and businesses realized the true costs of the environmental cleanup, it was a painless transition back to paper containers.
No one misses Styrofoam, certainly not our city sewers or the mid-ocean garbage gyres.
There is simply no good reason to continue using the plastic bags in the Comox Valley when there are constructive alternatives available: reusable bags or five-cent paper bags.
Several elected officials told Decafnation that a Valley-wide ban would be too difficult to coordinate between municipalities and the regional district. But it’s been done successfully in other communities that encompass multiple jurisdictions.
And those who use the harmful plastic bags for garbage or picking up dog poop would just have to buy biodegradable versions.
As Meaghan Cursons said, our “culture has to shift its thinking in general about consumption, and waste.”
Besides, when did shoppers become entitled to free plastic bags? It’s a convenience we’ve come to expect, but which our planet can no longer afford.
Further reading: Stop being a bag lady (or bag guy), St. John’s wants province to ban bags, Which countries have banned plastic bags?, What’s so bad about plastic bags?
Photo: A view of the Campbell River estuary as it was in 1989, before restoration. Courtesy of Tim Ennis
The importance of the planned restoration of the Fields Sawmill site may well go beyond repairing a blight on the Comox Valley’s image. It’s likely to influence the prospects of a coast-wide approach to replacing multiple forest industry eyesores with ecological assets.
The remnants of early-20th century logging practices can be found all up and down Vancouver Island’s coastlines in the persona of abandoned sawmills, which were almost always located in estuaries.
These shuttered mills that once buzzed around the clock, cutting logs into usable lumber, have fallen victim to government policies that allow the export of raw logs, and to changing industry practices.
In the early 1900s, timber companies moved their logs by rail to larger rivers where they were dumped into the river, boomed, then towed by tugboats to sawmills located in estuaries. While booming adored our beaches with interesting collections of driftwood, it was inefficient and slow.
That practice still goes on in the Fraser River and in the Nanaimo and Ladysmith areas. But most Island logging has now moved toward truck-based transportation. It’s flexible, less expensive more reliable.
The change means sawmills no longer need to be located in intertidal environments. And that, in turn, means there’s an opportunity to restore those shorelines and estuaries to their natural habitat, and create functioning ecosystems for fish and other wildlife.
A view of the Campbell River estuary in 2016, after restoration
If Project Watershed — the nonprofit leading Field Sawmill project, called Kus-kus-sum to honor an ancient First Nations village across the river — succeeds in raising the $6.5 million it needs to purchase the property and restore it, other communities will be inspired to seize their own opportunities.
And there are plenty of them.
In Tahsis, there are concrete slabs where two former sawmills once operated on the estuary. They closed down in 2001 and 2003. The Gold River Bowater pulp mill, also located on a river, closed in 1999.
In Port Alberni, the Somass sawmill officially closed in August, but has been essentially shut down for a year. The APD mill there is down to just one shift of workers per day. Both are located on the Alberni inlet.
The Campbell River pulp mill sits empty on about a mile of prime shoreline.
While the loss of jobs devastated those small towns, they have reinvented themselves as destinations for tourism and sport fishing. Reclaiming the abandoned mill sites would help, not hinder, their economic prosperity.
Tim Ennis, senior project manager for the Kus-kus-sum project, believes there may be many opportunities on the B.C. coast to restore former sawmill sites located in estuaries, without negative impacts to the forest economy.
That’s because trucking has replaced marine-based transport as the preferred method of transporting logs and newer government regulations are more restrictive in estuarine environments. So the forest industry doesn’t rely on the use of estuaries as it did in the past.
Campbell River led the way
Project Watershed has viewed the restoration of three sawmill sites in the Campbell River estuary as a model for their Kus-kus-sum project.
Ennis managed the Campbell River project. At the time, he was the director of land stewardship for the B.C. region of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which purchased the former Raven Lumber sawmill property as well as two smaller operations in the estuary.
He is now the senior project manager for Kus-kus-sum, as well as the executive director of the Comox Valley Land Trust, and brings his experience from much larger restoration projects.
“Compared to the Campbell River situation,” Ennis said. “The Field Sawmill site does not appear to be nearly as complex to restore and offers a huge potential benefit for the community.”
The projects are similar, he said, in that both are being led by nonprofit organizations. One of the Campbell River mills, known locally as Ocean Blue, closely resembled the Field Sawmill site, including a solid wall fronting the river.
But there are also critical differences.
The Campbell River City Council was committed to de-industrializing the river estuary. The city created an estuary management commission, which developed an estuary management plan. That plan included a conscious effort to relocate industrial operations away from the estuary.
So there was considerable political support in Campbell River, which was matched by the city’s financial contribution of approximately 25 percent of the land acquisition costs.
The City of Courtenay, on the other hand, was not the source of inspiration for restoring the Fields Sawmill site. Kus-kus-sum has been primarily driven by NGO and First Nations leadership.
And the City Council has not yet committed itself to any degree of financial support toward acquisition costs.
They have waived property taxes for two years while Project Watershed raises acquisition funds. But the eventual title will name the city as part owners of the property.
Nor has the Town of Comox or the Comox Valley Regional District made commitments, both of which stand to benefit as much as Courtenay from eliminating this eyesore on a main transportation corridor.
Fortunately, the K’omoks First Nations are committed and strong partners on the Kus-kus-sum project.
Not only are the K’omoks chief, council, band administration and Guardian Watchman department onside, nearly every K’omoks band member has signed a petition supporting the cause.
The Campbell River Indian Band was not as active.
If Kus-kus-sum succeeds, it will build on the restoration momentum from Campbell River, and set the stage for a much grander opportunity: to inspire and support the restoration of other abandoned sawmill sites throughout the B.C. coast.
How you can help
Kus-kus-sum needs community financial support in order to leverage the millions of dollars needed from granting organizations and the federal and provincial governments. Their website makes it easy to donate.
The Ocean Blue site in Campbell River before restoration
The Ocean Blue site after restoration
Brian Gunn forms Concerned Professional Engineers
Photo: Aframax tanker negotiating the Second Narrows Bridge in the Burrard Inlet.
By Catherine Gilbert
From his office located on the second floor of the log home overlooking Upper Campbell Lake that he shares with partner Myrna Boulding, Brian Gunn has been working tirelessly for the past 15 years to make a better BC.
He works without any expect of a reward; in fact often traveling and hiring help at his own expense. A retired engineer and former owner of a dude ranch in the Cariboo, Gunn is also past president of the Wilderness Tourism Association of BC, an organization that gives a voice to adventure tourism operators on issues such as land use and park permits.
He is nearing his 80th birthday, yet still remains engaged in various advocacy issues and has garnered a reputation for getting things done.
The Second Narrows Bridge collapsed in 1979 when a ship collided with it
His latest project has been to form an organization known as Concerned Professional Engineers, or CPE that is composed of other retired engineers as well as a professor of engineering at UBC, Dr. Ricardo Fosci. The CPE have joined forces to challenge the methods in which oil products are being shipped from and along the coast of British Columbia.
It all began with a trip up the northern coast of BC in the summer of 2012, starting in Bella Coola and ending in Kitimat, when Gunn and Norm Allyn interviewed residents and local politicians about their attitudes towards the proposed Northern Gateway Project. This developed into applying with the National Energy Board for Intervenor status, being accepted and attending the hearings at Prince Rupert.
The CPE expressed the concern that NG intended to ship dilbit (diluted bitumen) by tanker out of Kitimat. Kitimat is located 300 km from the open Pacific, and to reach the ocean, tankers would have to navigate narrow, foggy, stormy passages in an area of some of BC’s most pristine ocean environment.
Instead of Kitimat, the CPE felt that Enbridge should have been considering alternative ports such as Port Simpson or Prince Rupert. One of their other major concerns is that not enough testing has been done to know how dilbit behaves in a marine environment and that the consequences of a major spill are unknown.
The map shows the position of both the First and Second Narrows Bridges in Burrard Inlet
Most recently, the CPE has been challenging Kinder Morgan’s proposal to increase their transport of oil through the Burrard Inlet in Vancouver from one day per week to seven days (the TransMountain Expansion). Already, alarm bells were going off when the CPE considered the danger in having any large tankers at all progress through the inlet, passing the First and Second Narrows bridges before arriving at the open ocean.
They have proposed that Kinder Morgan should change its shipping terminal to Roberts Bank, just outside Tsawwassen, which would place the oil tankers away from the city.
As spokesperson for the CPE, Gunn likes to make it clear that the CPE are not against the oil industry and understand its relationship to Canadian economic growth.
They are however, concerned about protecting the British Columbia coast and its environment. They wish to provide an informed view of how projects such as Northern Gateway and the Transmountain Expansion can be made as safe as humanly possible. As Gunn says, “there is no such thing as 100 percent safe, but we know that there are safer alternatives than what are being currently proposed.”
Visit their website for details on what action the CPE has been taking, and what they propose still needs to be done.
Catherine Gilbert is a Citizen Journalist currently in Victoria writing a graduate thesis about Strathcona Park and continues to assist Brian Gunn with CPE correspondence. She can be reached through her website http://catherinegilbert.ca.
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